The Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network

Current Status and Future of the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network

  Over the last 20 years, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia has developed an extensive network of automated weather stations across the State of Georgia known as the AEMN. The Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network, or AEMN, has provided current and historical information at no cost for almost twenty years to a variety of users as a service of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The operation of the AEMN requires over $300,000 annually which has traditionally been provided from a combination of state funding and contracts and grants. These funds are no longer available due to the loss of state funding and key personnel. Continued operation of the AEMN will be possible only if sustainable financial support totaling $300,000 is pledged soon. We want to continue operation of the AEMN as a service of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, but we need dedicated funding to keep it running while we develop a long-term, sustainable business plan.

  Although technically “automated,” the AEMN requires 24/7 support, including staff who travel around the state diagnosing data interruptions, repairing or replacing equipment, and providing routine maintenance. One staff position is dedicated to continuously providing quality assurance and quality control of the formidable data stream from 81 stations recording at least 19 weather variables every 15 minutes. Computer and file maintenance, sensor calibration, accommodation of data requests, and overall administration require additional staff. Consequently, unless $300,000 per year in ongoing support becomes available from one or a few major sources in the very near future, we will begin to dismantle individual AEMN stations in late July 2011. Once a station is shut down data will no longer be available, to the detriment of Georgia’s economy For further information please contact AEMN manager Ian Flitcroft at iflitcro@uga.edu.

What is the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Weather Network?

  The University of Georgia has developed an extensive network of automated weather stations, operating in most of the agricultural production areas across the state, known as the Automated Environmental Monitoring Network (AEMN), or simply the Georgia Weather Network. The first station was installed in 1992, and since then the network has grown to 81 stations. Each station records rainfall, air and soil temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, soil moisture, and barometric pressure. Some stations also record evaporation, water temperature, and leaf wetness. All these values are read every second and averaged and recorded every 15 minutes on site. This data is sent to computers on the UGA campus via radio, internet, or dedicated phone lines. The downloaded data is processed and maintained in two aggregate files, one with the 15-min values, and one with daily summaries. These files are updated at least every hour and some of the most recent data are made freely available at Georgiaweather.net. In addition to the displayed values, various weather-based products, such as degree-day calculators and rainfall calculators, are also available on the website.

Who uses the Georgia Environmental Monitoring Network?

  Local real-time weather information delivered frequently is invaluable to a wide range of constituents, from obvious users like farmers and nurserymen to less apparent ones like science teachers and stonemasons. It is difficult to know the myriad ways in which the service helps Georgia residents, but the evidence available suggests a wide range of users and uses:

      •   In September 2010, a representative month, the AEMN had 565,000 hits by over 60,400 separate visitors, representing 49 states and 82 countries. Almost 300,000 of the hits were from within Georgia.

      •   County agents polled informally at meetings repeatedly identify the Georgia Weather Network as their main source of current weather information, as it is for many of the farmers they support.

      •   The regional energy utility Southern Company, requiring information on power demand and temperatures for billing purposes, makes extensive use of AEMN. They are responsible for about 13% of site visits.

      •   An article in the U.S. Golf Association online newsletter on August 11, 2010 documented severe drought damage to Georgia golf courses, using AEMN data extensively.

      •   Peanut growers use a calculator at the AEMN site to determine risk of tomato spotted wilt, and fruit producers utilize a chilling degree-day calculator to determine if their peaches, blueberries, etc. have met dormancy requirements for bloom in spring.

      •   AgroClimate.org, an information and decision support system for farmers from the 4-state Southeast Climate Consortium, draws directly and heavily on AEMN data for a wide array of tools to manage risk related to climate. Particularly valuable are seasonal predictions based on the El Niño cycle.

      •   Dozens of scientific journal articles, presentations, and posters have been based on archived data from the Georgia Weather Network since its inception.

What is the economic value of the Georgia Environmental Monitoring Network to Georgia?

  The financial benefits of the Georgia Weather Network are even more difficult to estimate than all the ways it may be used, but one can assume that the vast majority of clients access network data because they see it as beneficial to their business or institution, and therefore provide economic utility. A few estimates of cost benefits include:

      •   Blueberry growers estimated that during a hard freeze last winter, AEMN frost protection information in three counties saved them between $40,000and $60,000.

      •   A strawberry disease forecasting tool using similar stations in Florida saved an estimated $300/acre in 2008-09 by eliminating unneeded sprays. We are working to provide similar tools in Georgia using the AEMN.

      •   A formal study by M. Z. Alhassan in the Agricultural Economics Department at UGA concluded that the value of weather information from a single station in Camilla, for purposes of determining optimal planting date and irrigation regimes for corn, cotton, peanut, and soybean, was $847,502 per year